Little Bobby: Mom, why was nothing said about the other persons that Jesus raised from the dead together with Lazarus?
Mom: Oh dear, now were did you learn that there were other persons? It was only Lazarus.
Little Bobby: But mom, every time I read that verse I cannot help but assume that there were at least four persons.
Mom: Now why would you assume something like that?
Little Bobby: ‘Cause Lazarus came fourth (forth)!
God said to Lazarus, “Come forth, and receive eternal life!”
However, Lazarus came fifth and received a toaster.
You’ll notice the Old Testament reading for today was the Valley of the Dry Bones from the Prophet Ezekiel, most known for it’s reading at the Great Easter Vigil. In fact, just this week Maxine approached me intrigued that we would hear this reading twice. It’s an odd things, but as I researched these readings further I discovered that the readings today point toward a tradition reaching back to the 4th century at least. You see, the Saturday right before Palm Sunday for more than 1600 years has been commemorated as Lazarus Saturday, a tradition still maintained in the Christian East. In the sermons of St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and others as well as the hymns of St. Andrew of Crete and St. John of Damascus we find reference to this commemoration.
It seems we Anglicans in formulating our readings for this Sunday preceding Palm Sunday decided to include these readings as an homage to this ancient tradition. I consider this a good thing, because Lazarus Saturday – for us Lazarus Sunday—and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position in the church year. They are both days of joy and triumph interposed between the penitence of Lent and the mourning of Holy Week as we journey with Jesus in his last days leading to his arrest, the crucifixion, and the grave.
Lazarus Sunday and Palm Sunday for us are a foreshadowing of the Easter message of the power of life over death, that in the end love ultimately wins. Today’s collect which I prayed at the beginning of the service says:
“Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise that among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.”
I love how that prayer phrases it: “. . . the swift and varied changes of the world . . .” Life is rocky. No two days are alike. Our bodies our changes. World politics are in constant flux. Not to mention the balance in yours and my bank account. Our moods and the moods of our loved ones. Life is constant flux. Swift and varied changes.
I am forever enchanted by Saint Augustine’s words, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord.”
This life is fleeting. In 1 Timothy 6:7 it is written “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” If we invest our joy on things, objects, possessions, things we are sure to be disappointed. Things grow old, things break, things dust and decay. Money runs out. Relationships face challenges. Jobs change. Homes fall apart. I’m not trying to depress you, but to capture the magnitude of “the swift and varied changes of the world.”
Psalm: “If you were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?”
OT: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”
NT: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Peace. Now we are talking. I think ultimately, at the core of our deepest longings is peace. A true, lasting peace. And this can only be found within, in placing our heart in God’s possession; in trusting that God is always present and near working in ways unseen and so often not yet understood; and knowing that in the end we live and move and have our being within God.
And here’s the wonderful part of the story—God is stubborn and relentless and wooing and will not give up seeking your heart. God is relentlessly pursuing you, offering you more than just an eternal life insurance policy, but rather a Peace that surpasses all understanding. This is what we are offered today at this service. We do not gather here for mere bread and wine, but we come to the threshold of the heavenly courts and receive the very essence of God into ourselves that among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed in the knowledge and love of God.
And that takes me to our Gospel lesson of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. At face value, this offers a foreshadowing of the Resurrection. But there is a threefold process to this resuscitation that I believe is of utmost importance if this story of Lazarus is to mean anything to you and me here today. There is a threefold process:
- Jesus wept. It is there, surrounded by his friend’s grief that Jesus faces the anguish caused by death, a phenomenon he never intended for his beloved creation. He mourns this state of decay, this corruption that eats away at life. Jesus wept.
- He comes to the grave, the threshold between the dead and the living and orders, “Lazarus, come out!”
- But Lazarus’ raising includes one more step. He turns to the community and orders them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Let’s keep this personal. I could turn to the world around us and ask, what in the world do you think causes God to weep. But that’s too easy. It’s easy to externalize these stories. To look at the work God needs to do outside of our selves. But, let’s keep things personal. Where in your life are there moments when you think God would weep? I will offer you a clue from my own experience and the testimony of the saints—when you are feeling most afraid, alone, lost, or whatever that emotion or area of your life where you struggle most and can be brought to anguish or tears. It is there with you I believe God weeps, in compassion. Compassion comes from Latin compassionem and means “to suffer with.” This is at the heart of the Christ story.
That is the first movement, recognizing God with us in the midst of our suffering. The second is God’s invitation, “Lazarus, come out!” God calls us forth from the shadows into the light. God invites us out of our fears into a place of trust. God calls us out of our crutches by which we seek to hold ourselves up, into his loving embrace.
And the last step is a command for the rest of us, “Unbind him, and let him go.” We are called to tend to one another in this journey of growth, of life and resurrection. Where the burial clothes have bound him, his friends are called to support him by removing these restrains. What does that look like for us? What would it look like for us to do this for one another? In what areas of your life do you need the help of the community to support you in taking that step forward from the grave?
This Christian journey is all about healing—inner growth and change. Our earthly journey is like that of a butterfly in its cocoon. We are here to morph and grow, to strengthen and be changed. Along those lines, I want to close in sharing a poem with you I wrote in 2005. It is entitled Metamorphosis . . .
Wrapped in a cocoon
My spirit petrified patiently waits
As layers and layers of who I am
Not are stripped away
Like a withered husk
I am no longer fit to wear
In silence the walls of every temple
To myself are consumed by Light
Stripped bare and I am revealed as
I truly am—and when all
Which is not falls away
There rests only that which is.
Trembling and struggling out
Of another skin, I as Lazarus step out
From death to be clothed in Light
As the Beloved speaks—“Come out!
Out of Egypt . . .
Out of slavery . . .
Out of death . . .
I have come that you may have life,
And have it abundantly!”
© The Rev. Justin R. Cannon